The Walking Dead is back! Now whether that’s a good or bad thing is, of course, up to the viewer. I’m inclined to think it’s a decent thing, but I also don’t think it’s as amazing as the shows ratings would have you believe. I’m going to nitpick the first episode of the third season here. Obviously, I have no authority to pick any nits, but I feel like I’ve earned it a little bit since I’ve watched the show since the beginning. And hey, at least it gets me writing. The Walking Dead has aired 20 episodes to date and I think that maybe 3 of those episodes are high quality television. The rest are all over the map, but I’d say the show on the whole is slightly above average. I won’t compare it to other AMC shows, because that just seems unfair. On to the episode.
Some time has passed since the end of season 2. Herschel’s sporting a beard that is well on it’s way to “mountain man” status. Carl’s hair has grown longer and he’s looking a bit older. Beth (is that her name), in contrast, seems a little bit younger, no doubt so the writers could provide us with the Carl/Beth romance (I hesitate to say “sexual tension”) that nobody was asking for. Also, Lori is way more pregnant. So pregnant, in fact, that she has difficulty keeping her fake belly from sliding around like a detached kneecap. Oh, we also get a brand new credit sequence, which is nice.
Correct me if I’m wrong, but wasn’t the prison just on the horizon at the end of season two? Has our merry band really been “going in circles” all winter without ever stumbling up on the prison? It seems unlikely, but maybe I’m misremembering. Anyway, they find the prison and an odd walker-slaying-fest ensues. Here’s my first big nitpick. I’m not a gun expert by any stretch, but the effects used for muzzle flashes and gunshots look just terrible. Of course, maybe they’re more realistic and I’m just used to the more dazzling weapon effects that have become my standard based on a steady diet of film and television. I’m guessing it’s some kind of budget issue, where they couldn’t afford to spring for guns that actually moved, fired blanks and ejected shell casings. Also, they probably didn’t want to pay a gun safety supervisor to be on set or train everyone, or something. I don’t remember the gun effects being this bad in previous seasons, but maybe they were. Whatever the reason, the muzzle flashes look like someone just used the “spray paint” mode in MS Paint to give a little flash of yellow over the end of the barrels.
Note: Upon re-watching, some of the guns appear to move and drop shells, others don’t. Rick’s rifle has absolutely no kick, which seems odd, but again, I’m no expert.
It’s kind of fun to watch the actors try to sell that their firing real, moving weapons, especially when what’s her name (Carol, the woman with the short hair who has done nothing but lose her daughter so far in the series) is complaining about her shoulder hurting because the kickback of the rifle. Also, was it just me, or was Rick’s pistol equipped with a homemade silencer fashioned out of a flashlight? I guess they didn’t want to worry about adding a couple of extra muzzle flashes when he is picking off zombies.
Before they enter the prison, the merry band spends a night in the prison yard they’ve conquered and Beth and Maggie sing “The Parting Glass” in a scene that’s supposed to be touching and poignant, showing us a bit of humanity left in this awful world. Unfortunately, while the scene kind of works, it plays more like the writers saying “Hey! Here’s a scene that’s supposed to be touching and poignant, showing you a bit of humanity left in this awful world.” The band decides to enter the prison, but from here out they conserve ammo (and muzzle flash animation), using only hand-to-bony-decaying-hand weapons.
Rick, Daryl, Glenn, Maggie and T-Dog fight their way through a bunch of walkers to get into the prison. Here’s where we get something really fun resulting in something kind of stupid. The posse is attacked mostly by prisoner zombies, but as they reach the walls of the prison, out stumble some prison guards zombies in full riot gear! It’s a great visual and really, it’s something I hadn’t considered. Now the stupid part. The posse acts as if they have no idea how riot gear works. Daryl fires a crossbow bolt straight into the protective visor of one riot zombie. It bounces off harmlessly. Others grapple with the zombies trying to stab then through the armor and face plates, to no avail. Finally, Maggie stabs a zombie to (second) death under the chin, then proceeds to act like she’s made the best discovery since the writers decided to shoot Carl in season 2.
Everyone else catches on and begins to stab the riot zombies under their helmets and in their necks. Thank goodness someone realized that the armor was not actually their skin, but instead a protective layer that can be pushed aside in order to land a killing blow! We do get one pretty great moment when rick rips a gas mask off of one undead guard and the walker’s face proceeds to peel off along with the mask. Probably the best zombie moment of the episode.
With all that said and done, the merry band gets into the prison and sets up camp in a walker-free cell block. Rick and Lori are clearly far from marital bliss. Carl and Beth are inching closer to marital bliss, over Herschel’s dead body (and we’ll have to wait until next week to see whether this statement if figurative or literal). Glenn and Maggie set up together in a cell. We do get one nice moment near the end of the episode where Lori talks to Herschel about the possibility that her baby, which she hasn’t felt moving recently, might already be dead inside her and might try to claw its way out. It’s a legitimately scary prospect and I’m actually interested to find out exactly what happens with Lori and the baby. Sarah Wayne Callies sells the scene pretty well.
Another great thing about the episode is how the some of the prison interiors are framed. Most of the master shots to open and close scenes are just gorgeous. I think the camerawork is one of the show’s strengths. I wonder how much if it has to do with the show working off of the graphic novel, or at least the producers considering the graphic novel roots of the series. Whatever it is, the prison has a really great atmosphere.
Before dealing with the “shocker” ending, I feel I should mention Andrea and Michonne (who has yet to be named, as far as I could tell). Apparently Andrea is sick and Michonne is taking care of her, hunting down Aspirin and decapitating walkers. Andrea convinces Michonne that it’s time to leave their hideout, so they do. And that’s really all we get. It seems strange just go give Andrea the flu for no reason, so I’ve got to assume something will come of her illness. Maybe Laurie Holden wants to quit the show? However it turns out, they don’t do a great job of setting this pair up for us. Maybe they want to maintain the mystery.
Now for the shocker. Everyone but Carl, Beth and Lori go exploring in the prison. A bunch of inmate walkers attack and Herschel gets an ankle bite! Oh no, who is going to deliver the zombaby? The gang drags Herschel to “safety” and Rick proceeds to amputate Herschel’s leg with a tiny hatchet. There’s no “tell us how to fix you, Herschel” moment, Rick just starts hacking away and it’s pretty gruesome, especially considering the lack of anesthetic. I’m dubious as to weather the amputation will work to stop zombification. My guess is I’ll finally have a chance to use the “Herschel Walker” jokes I’ve been saving up since season 2. During the amputation, another group of inmates appears in a window in the room. Notice I didn’t say inmate “walkers,” as these guys are living, breathing human beings. Yay?
Next week on The Walking Dead: Don’t drop the soap.